As the third and final year of my Bioveterinary Science degree begins to draw to an end, I find myself reminiscing on previous years, and evaluating the person I have become; academically as well as professionally. One of the biggest contributors to the growth within my professional development has been the engagement with the third year placement opportunity. I was fortunate enough to gain a placement within a wildlife hospital charity, working alongside a class peer. We were responsible for handling and analysing case sensitive data as well as liaising with clients. Through this experience, I have gained a multitude of applicable skills. Throughout this blog post, the acquisition of these skills will be explored through the act of reflection.
“The process of reflection is a mindful way for individuals to process, analyse and learn from their professional experiences”
Reflecting upon professional experiences that you have encountered and been a part of is a beneficial and mindful way to evaluate and analyse your actions, as well as the overall outcome of the scenario. What did you learn? Has this experience helped you grow professionally? Reflective practice is very closely linked to the idea of learning from experience. It is an act of self-awareness and allows individuals to critically evaluate their experiences and recognise what they have learnt from said experience, enabling them to better their practice for the future (Sweet et al., 2019). Research suggests that the act of reflective practice is beneficial for students as it encourages autonomous learning as well as increasing confidence and responsibility for their learning (Carey et al., 2017). Encouraging reflective practice early within university students is constructive for preparing them for future professional roles as it promotes self-direction and accountability. McLeod et al., (2020) discusses how student osteopaths benefitted greatly from reflective practice being integrated within their education. Students revealed that the act of reflective practice helped to greatly develop their professional competence, especially in regard to their clinical reasoning processes.
In order to engage with reflective practice effectively, numerous reflective practice frameworks have been developed for all different types of professionals. One of the most well-known frameworks for reflection is Gibbs reflective cycle, developed in 1988 by Graham Gibbs. The framework consists of six stages, and was designed in order to give structure to learning from experiences and enable individuals to plan ahead from what they have learnt (Husebø et al., 2015). However, Gibbs reflective cycle has been criticised for being difficult to recall and over complicated due to the numerous steps involved in the cycle (Timmins et al., 2013). Because of this, I have decided to frame this reflective blog post on the Rolfe (2001) reflective model. This model consists of three questions, making it simplistic and straightforward (Kelsey and Hayes, 2015). I personally feel less constricted with my writing by using the Rolfe (2001) model, allowing me to reflect and explore my experiences in more detail without restriction.
My main role within my work experience placement was that of a data analyst. I worked alongside a class peer and we were responsible for handling case sensitive data in order to resolve some financial issues faced by the charity. Ultimately, we inputted data extracted from the charity into excel documents so from there we could analyse our findings and gain credible information which could be used to address and resolve said financial issues.
We were presented with a large amount of data, dating back to two years prior. However, the data presented to us was printed on paper and was kept within a large box. This resulted in us taking time to organise the files within the folder, discovering missing pieces of important documents needed for our work. We found ourselves having to chase missing pieces of data which would ultimately become quite frustrating. This frustration also brought up feelings of stress and anxiety, which ultimately lead to periods of demotivation about the work placement. Research suggests that frustration and stress are related to demotivation as stress has an emotional, physical and chemical effect on the brain and body, and can result in unclear thought processes and overwhelming emotional toll (Ghaith, 2019). We worked independently as “self-employed” data analysts, which meant that we had to make decisions for ourselves as well as plan and trial how best to convert the data electronically in order for it to be analysed. The nature of our work meant that we worked from home and had to arrange our own working hours weekly to best suit both of us.
A large portion of our placement involved liaising with the main founder of the charity as a client, in order to establish what issues the charity was facing. We were responsible for listening to and acknowledging the concerns of the client and what she would ideally like to be done in order to resolves these concerns. We would consult with her regarding our plan for how to tackle the data and regularly get in touch with her to update her on the project and ask any questions regarding the contents of the data or any missing data. Because of the nature of the situation we found ourselves having to ask difficult or uncomfortable questions regarding finances, and framing these questions in an appropriate and professional way. To make use of the findings from the analysed data, we constructed a summary report of the information that could be used by the charity, as well as an advisory report on how we thought best to tackle the problem. The advisory report also included suggestions in policy change that we believed would benefit the charity in the long run and make resolving any similar future issues a lot easier.
Throughout my university career I have had a consistent struggle with maths, and I found previous subjects, such as research methods, difficult and just had an overall lack of confidence with anything number related. Because of this, the nature of my work placement really took me out of my comfort zone, which I believe to have benefitted me in various ways. Research suggest that the notion of the “comfort zone” is shaped by habits, beliefs and unconscious values, and that being placed in discomfort (outside the comfort zone) can lead to self-discovery and critical evaluation of these habits and beliefs (Prazeres, 2017). My work placement enabled me to develop skills and become more confident with data analysing and excel. I believe that working alongside my class peer who was more confident with numbers than I was, really helped me to grasp and develop these skills further. Chetlen et al., (2019) agrees with this idea as they state that peer collaboration allows teams to learn and grow together, by benefiting from each other’s expertise and experiences.
My peer and I worked as though we were self-employed data analysts. This meant that we worked completely independently on behalf of the charity. We had to arrange working hours that best suited both of our life styles and ensure that we completed a sufficient amount of placement work each week, alongside our distant learning studies, without prompt from an employer. This was a new experience for the both of us. It presented its challenges but enabled us to grow professionally. For our placement to work efficiently, we had to be accountable for our own working hours and practice a sufficient amount of self-discipline. This proved valuable as research suggests that practicing self-discipline results in self-efficacy and career preparation (Park, 2015). I view self-discipline as a valued skill that can benefit my future career choices by ensuring I can hold myself accountable for my work without prompt from an employer. This skill will also benefit me in any future further academic studies. This act of self-discipline that was practiced throughout my work placement also greatly helped me with my distant learning academic modules, again having to keep myself accountable for my own learning. Jowsey et al., (2020) suggests that distance learning students struggle with accountability and self-discipline to complete online work of their own accord and not attend lectures, further confirming the value of self-discipline as a skill. Working independently also resulted in the acquisition of other skills, such as problem solving. Analysing data was fairly new for both of us, so we had to learn and discover the best ways to formulate and analyse our data just by testing different methods. This is known as the trial and error theory. Trial and error is a method which naturally develops and encourages problem solving skills through active learning (Lohse et al., 2020). Problem solving is a key skill that can be utilised in any career or academic path in the future.
Another extremely valued skill that I have taken from this work placement experience is the ability to communicate with clients or other stake holders. We had to sit down and listen to the concerns of our client, as well as providing our own opinions and giving options as to what we could possibly do to resolve the issues. Client communication is an attribute that can be carried throughout any career choice. Research suggests that client communication is one of the key skills that employers look out for in graduates, but it is also one of the biggest factors that holds graduates back from employment, due to a lack of experience (Lim et al., 2016). Client communication also lead to independent decision making from my peer and I. We had to make decisions and offer our advice on what we thought would best benefit the charity. Professional decision making links back again to working independently and highlights an acquisition of professional judgement. The process of coming to a decision through an assessment of information and evaluation of alternative resolutions is a highly transferable skill that can be carried with me throughout my career (Taylor and Whittaker, 2018).
Upon reflection of my work placement journey, I am very grateful for the skills and experiences that I have obtained that will be highly beneficial for me in the future. However, in hindsight, there are things that I have discovered from the experience, and there are things that I would do differently in the future if similar situations were presented to me. Although I gained a varied amount of transferable skills through my placement and overall I did enjoy it, it did make me realise that pursuing a career in data analysis isn’t a career path I would choose. Nevertheless, participating in the work placement will still be beneficial for any career path I choose as it demonstrates to employers that I am willing to develop new skills in the process of experience. Sukmawati et al., (2019) agrees with this statement as findings from their research highlighted that work experience exceedingly improves career development and employability.
This process of reflection has indicated areas within myself that I would change if faced with similar situations in the future. Looking back, I could have easily prepared myself better for the placement by being more organised and utilising tools that were available to me such as the Microsoft Excel course that is provided by my university. If I had attended the course I would have been more familiar with the software and more than likely felt more confident with the process of analysing the data. Through this I have learnt that preparing for unfamiliar tasks would greatly benefit and save me time and stress in the future. Lack of preparation stems from a lack of organisation on my behalf which I now known I need to work on in the future in order to better myself.
Following on from a lack of organisation, reflecting on the experience has shown me that I could have been stricter with myself and followed a more regimented routine. Although I did practice a lot of self-discipline and did hold myself accountable for my work, I believe that if I had stuck to the same working hours every week I may have been more productive. Developing routines has been linked to establishing greater adherence and performance quality (Arlinghaus and Johnston, 2018). I have learnt from this experience that I would enjoy working for myself and developing my own working hours, but establishing a strict, regimented routine would lead to higher levels of productivity and accountability.
“I believe all third year students should have this opportunity made available to them”
This reflective piece has highlighted a handful of skills that I have acquired through my placement journey, but the experience really has taught me so much, from both an academic and professional perspective. In my opinion I believe that the opportunity to take part in a work placement should be made available to many more third year students. I am more confident in my professional abilities and I can now demonstrate a varied skill set to future employers through the experience that I have been a part of. I believe the university should continue allowing placement opportunities for third year Bioveterinary students as the experience really enhances your professional development and prepares you for your future career.
For further reading and useful websites to get you started with reflective writing, please see below:
Arlinghaus, K. R. and Johnston, C. A. (2018) ‘The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine.’ American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(2) pp. 142–144.
Carey, G., Harrison, S. and Dwyer, R. (2017) ‘Encouraging reflective practice in conservatoire students: a pathway to autonomous learning?’ Music Education Research, 19(1) pp. 99–110.
Chetlen, A. L., Petscavage-Thomas, J., Cherian, R. A., Ulano, A., Nandwana, S. B., Curci, N. E., Swanson, R. T., Artrip, R., Bathala, T. K., Gettle, L. M. and Frigini, L. A. (2019) ‘Collaborative Learning in Radiology: From Peer Review to Peer Learning and Peer Coaching.’ Academic Radiology, October.
Ghaith, G. (2019) ‘The Interplay of Selected Demotivation Determinants and Achievement in EFL Critical Reading and Writing’ p. 16.
Husebø, S. E., O’Regan, S. and Nestel, D. (2015) ‘Reflective Practice and Its Role in Simulation.’ Clinical Simulation in Nursing. (Theory for Simulation), 11(8) pp. 368–375.
Jowsey, T., Foster, G., Cooper-Ioelu, P. and Jacobs, S. (2020) ‘Blended learning via distance in pre-registration nursing education: A scoping review.’ Nurse Education in Practice, 44, March, p. 102775.
Kelsey, C. and Hayes, S. (2015) ‘Frameworks and models – Scaffolding or strait jackets? Problematising reflective practice.’ Nurse Education in Practice, 15(6) pp. 393–396.
Lim, Y.-M., Lee, T. H., Yap, C. S. and Ling, C. C. (2016) ‘Employability skills, personal qualities, and early employment problems of entry-level auditors: Perspectives from employers, lecturers, auditors, and students.’ Journal of Education for Business, 91(4) pp. 185–192.
Lohse, K. R., Miller, M. W., Daou, M., Valerius, W. and Jones, M. (2020) ‘Dissociating the contributions of reward-prediction errors to trial-level adaptation and long-term learning.’ Biological Psychology, 149, January, p. 107775.
McLeod, G. A., Vaughan, B., Carey, I., Shannon, T. and Winn, E. (2020) ‘Pre-professional reflective practice: Strategies, perspectives and experiences.’ International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, 35, March, pp. 50–56.
Park, S. (2015) ‘Effects of Discipline-based Career Course on Nursing Students’ Career Search Self-efficacy, Career Preparation Behavior, and Perceptions of Career Barriers.’ Asian Nursing Research, 9(3) pp. 259–264.
Prazeres, L. (2017) ‘Challenging the comfort zone: self-discovery, everyday practices and international student mobility to the Global South.’ Mobilities, 12(6) pp. 908–923.
Sukmawati, N. P., Rahyuda, A. and Supartha, W. (2019) ‘The Impact of Training Program and Work Experiences on Career Development.’ In Proceedings of the Proceedings of the 1st Sampoerna University-AFBE International Conference, SU-AFBE 2018, 6-7 December 2018, Jakarta Indonesia. Jakarta, Indonesia: EAI.
Sweet, L., Bass, J., Sidebotham, M., Fenwick, J. and Graham, K. (2019) ‘Developing reflective capacities in midwifery students: Enhancing learning through reflective writing.’ Women and Birth, 32(2) pp. 119–126.
Taylor, B. and Whittaker, A. (2018) ‘Professional judgement and decision-making in social work.’ Journal of Social Work Practice, 32(2) pp. 105–109.
Timmins, F., Murphy, M., Howe, R. and Dennehy, C. (2013) ‘“I Hate Gibb’s Reflective Cycle 1998” (Facebook©2009): Registered Nurses’ Experiences of Supporting Nursing Students’ Reflective Practice in the Context of Student’s Public Commentary.’ Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 93, October, pp. 1371–1375.